A House Divided: A series about division in America, part 1

It’s 2018, and I argue that the tensions in this country are heating up. There is a definite “us vs them” mentality floating around. And a lot of it is centered around our current President of the United States.

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.

We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.

Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

–Abraham Lincoln, 1858

 

 

This was a speech given over one hundred and fifty years ago by Abraham Lincoln. Yes, the speech was about slavery, but it still resonates today. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Lincoln said. And he was right. Shortly after he gave this speech in the Illinois State House, he became President of the United States, and then The Civil War broke out. The house of Lincoln’s time could not stand when it was divided against the slavery issue. Four long years of brother fighting against brother, and that was the only time we, as a country, have fought against ourselves. Lincoln was able to hold our country together, sew the seams back up. But at what cost? How many lives were lost because the division and tension was so high against the issue of being able to own other human beings?

It’s 2018, and I argue that the tensions in this country are heating up. There is a definite “us vs them” mentality floating around. And a lot of it is centered around our current President of the United States. While one of the triggers that ignited the Civil War was the election of Abraham Lincoln as President, I won’t waste my time comparing him to Donald Trump. Trump is not Lincoln. But in a later edition of this series, I will talk about the leadership in this country then versus now, and how it would look if there were to be a Civil War in 2018, which I personally feel is very unlikely, no matter how divided we are.

And, we are divided. At the time that I am sitting and writing this, President Trump’s campaign is under investigation to see if there was collusion with the Russian Government to get him elected. Every day in the news there are new developments in the investigation that lead to more yelling across the aisle. And new threats to fire Mueller, the man investigating the President, from Trump’s twitter.  This is where the divide becomes evident.

There are two sides in this country right now: Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump. And both sides are loud. And neither can get along. The fact that our current President is unashamed and openly speaks his mind, even though ninety percent of what he says are lies, makes the Pro-Trump people happy. They’ve been waiting for a President like this. The opposite is true of the Anti-Trump sect. The divide is so deep around the fact that Mueller is investigating Trump, that there are contingencies in place if Trump actually goes through with firing Trump. Or the phrase “Civil War” has been spoken in reference to Mueller charging Trump with a crime.

But how did we get to this point? When did we get so divided that we’re yelling at Uncle Mike across the table at holiday dinner and unfriending friends and family from Facebook over politics? There were several things, but a big portion of it is the educational and economic divide in different regions in America.

The people who live in the “rust belt” have felt left behind in this new era of everything becoming automated, regulated and shipped overseas. They need someone to blame. Trump, during his campaign, gave these people someone to blame, and promised them he would fix all of their problems.  This is his “base.” He is always appealing to them. He knows the right words to say, and they don’t care if he’s lying or not, he’s appealing to their emotions and addressing their needs.

The people who live in the more urban areas tend to be more on the “Anti-Trump” side. They’re more progressive, they’re in favor of a lot of the changes that are occurring in the world, and they are generally a little more well off because they have not had their livelihood shipped overseas. They tend to see through Trump’s lies, and view him as a threat to democracy. They are very much in favor of the Mueller investigation and will be very upset if Trump really does fire him.

This is just one of the things that is causing great tension between everyone in this country. You’re viewed as either patriotic or anti-American by someone, and those definitions differ depending on what side of the argument you’re on. This may just be one thing, but we’ve seen it spiderweb through our country, causing a lot of strife. We’ve seen this allow White Supremacy groups to come out of hiding, causing the racial divide to deepen, which I’ll talk about in another article.

But what can we do to stop it? I honestly don’t know. I would like to think if Trump were no longer President, it would all go away, but that’s naive. This era has opened up a can of worms, so to speak. We need to look at the concerns of both sides and address them, reasonably. We need to listen and see both sides and try to come to some kind of compromise.

If you read the full text of Lincoln’s speech, you will find that’s what he wanted as well: compromise. He knew that if both sides didn’t find common ground, nothing good would come of it. And they couldn’t, and that’s how we have The Civil War. Let’s not let this drive us to this point. Let’s not let the President be what makes or breaks this country. We’re all Americans. Let’s all treat each other like brothers and sisters and not the enemy.

This is just Part 1 in a series about the division in America. Please come back next week and check out Part 2, which will be about how guns have caused a division in this country. 

E Pluribus Unum

When juxtaposed against the entirety of human history, 240 years is but a blink of an eye. And while we, as a species, have accomplished more in that time than in the millennia that preceded it, we now stand at a most precarious precipice moving forward. The phrase “we the people” is a call to recognize that all who gather under the banner of these United States must necessarily be afforded a chance for their voice to be heard. We must insist that the framework of governance as the founding fathers intended is neither bestowed upon us by divine providence nor constructed by an infallible age of men.  What was an improbable experiment in democracy continues to be shaped by those who dare to believe they have a role to play in it. A role which has expanded exponentially by the efforts of recent generations who were determined to permanently cleanse this land of its great and foul stains. To be a person of worth need not be defined by the color of one’s skin, or how we pray, or how we love; whether we identify as a man, woman, or a gender not defined by convention. Whether we toil in the fields, or behind a desk, or march proudly in service to protect these freedoms we hold dearly, we must always recognize that “we are a nation that is greater than the sum of its parts, that out of many we are truly one.”

Gone now are the days of civil discourse, and while we remain content to blame this breakdown in communication on social media, each other, or maybe even ourselves we must recognize that this vitriol is not a new development. We must acknowledge the festering irony that a country founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness openly allowed onto its shores the shameful trade of slavery. A market dependent on the systematic dehumanization of an entire people was allowed to bake into the very soil that dared to call itself the land of the free. Try as we might, that damned spot has yet to come out. Some may point out that Thomas Jefferson, himself a slave owner, advocated to prohibit the importation of new slaves in the hopes that it would ultimately lead to abolition of the trade. But even after 50 years, half the country would fight the other half in a bloody Civil War before slavery was outlawed almost entirely.

The thirteenth amendment officially ended slavery in this country, but only as it existed as a trade. Slavery is still legally around as criminal punishment. Around this same time, the criminalization of African Americans became a part of the culture. And the active separation between white and black people culminated in Jim Crow Laws, segregation, and the disenfranchisement. It is important to note that for slavery to have existed in the first place, one thing had to have happened: the falsehood that one group of people is not as good as another group of people had to have been perceived as truth. So while the slave trade ended with the Civil War, the culture that actively denied to recognize the humanity of African Americans continued unfettered. History books may show that slavery ended in the United States in 1865, but the voice of black communities would not be heard until the Voting Rights Act a century later in 1965.

But the sentiment of hate continues to this day. As James Baldwin once put it, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” And we have insisted on romanticizing a revisionist version of history that fails to recognize the worst parts of our past and in doing so have preserved those parts. What is worse is that any attempt to learn from the past is framed as tearing down heritage. Not only does this perspective distill history into nostalgic anecdotes about a romanticized past, but it is a nonstarter that impedes any sort of dialogue. The very people who were forced, for generations, to build this country are denied to claim even a piece of it. Nevertheless, they persisted. And their voices became shouts that demanded their right on this earth to be respected as human beings.

The struggle of African Americans throughout the country’s history serves as a true map to freedom. Unfortunately, the map is far from complete as long as there exists the cries of help that go unheeded. Whether from Flint, Michigan or Standing Rock Reservation or Puerto Rico, these cries for help are but a whisper away from being cries of revolution. We are not meant to be a nation that retreats to excuses, and yet all the perceived wrongs of today are placed squarely on the shoulders of immigrants. The qualifier “undocumented” or “illegal” are consequential. The negative attitude towards immigrants is thinly veiled hate augmented by fear of the other. If one is willing to sacrifice someone else’s freedom to ensure one’s own security, then neither are deserved.

The building of a more perfect union is a continuous endeavor that we must not fool ourselves into thinking is anywhere ever near complete. If anyone becomes hoarse from unheard cries of help, we must not make that an excuse to invalidate their need of help. We can move forward from this moment in history with dialogue; one in which we must be vigilant in not allowing our own cries for help degrade into shouting. Shouting only serves to drown out the other voices, not to make one’s own voice heard. We must learn to hear each other, then to listen. It is only when we can learn to do both that we can attempt our best to curb personal biases and negotiate a more inclusive system. We can do better and must do better in learning how to see human beings as human beings if we expect to ever be free at last.